How to help turn 1 million straws into public art in Pittsburgh

Straw Forward is meant to “amplify the importance of reducing single-use straw waste.”

One of the six bags of straws Square Cafe collected during the past few weeks as part of Straw Forward.

One of the six bags of straws Square Cafe collected during the past few weeks as part of Straw Forward.

Courtesy of Square Cafe
Rossilynne Culgan

Updated 10:20 a.m. July 28

More than a dozen local restaurants are trying to collect a million drinking straws through early fall so an artist can turn the ubiquitous plastic tubes into a public sculpture in Pittsburgh.

“We just really saw this opportunity especially with all of the attention that’s being put toward plastic straws to create this pilot project to amplify the importance of reducing single-use straw waste,” Rebecca Bykoski, program manager of Sustainable Pittsburgh Restaurant, said about the Straw Forward initiative, which launched a few weeks ago.

Sustainable Pittsburgh provided participating restaurants with signage, talking points, and receptacles to collect the straws. In some cases, staff will collect the straws in the dish station, and at more casual restaurants, customers may drop the straws into the receptacle themselves, as the initiative is meant to engage both restaurant employees and customers.

Any kind of straw can be collected, from larger bubble tea straws to conventional fast food straws. They’ll be cleaned and sanitized before they become an artist’s medium.

“The more variety of straws, the more interesting the art will be,” Bykoski said.

Sustainable Pittsburgh may add additional collection points throughout the city for anybody to deposit their straws. Collection will continue through early fall, working toward collecting 1 million, which organizers know is a lofty goal.

Recycling programs don’t accept plastic straws because they jam up the machines at recycling facilities, per Sustainable Pittsburgh.

Disposable straws have been a hot topic this month with Seattle banning them and Starbucks pledging to cut straw use. A viral, stomach-turning video from 2015 titled “Sea Turtle with Straw up its Nostril” sparked attention to the issue.